Expert Analysis


7 min read

The Reincarnation of Baker Mayfield

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) looks on before the game agains the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Baker Mayfield and the 7-7 Tampa Bay Buccaneers control their playoff destiny after finding different ways to stack three straight wins.

The former first overall pick was once deemed the potential savior of the Cleveland Browns' franchise but was cast aside in the summer of 2022 in a trade to the Carolina Panthers for a conditional fifth-round pick.

He did not make it through the season in Carolina and was released after the team went 1-5. Then, he signed with the Los Angeles Rams. Mayfield won a game after arriving in Los Angeles just two days prior, but he finished with three straight losses to close out the most tumultuous season of his career.

Now, after signing with the Buccaneers on a one-year, $4 million deal this offseason, Mayfield has seized the opportunity. He has earned the respect and trust of his coaches and teammates while throwing for 3,315 yards, 24 touchdowns and eight interceptions on a 63.5 percent completion rate. His statistics match up closely with the best year of his career in 2020, when he led Cleveland to an 11-5 record.

After reviewing the tape of Tampa Bay’s last three games, it’s evident Mayfield is playing at a high level and is likely in line to receive a substantial pay raise this offseason. Meanwhile, Cleveland and Carolina have dealt with mostly substandard quarterback play this season and might be regretting moving on from the former Heisman Trophy winner.

Scouting Mayfield

When watching Mayfield’s tape, the first thing that stands out is his confidence and command within the pocket.

He has very nimble and quick-twitch footwork, along with an instinctive ability to step into the quiet areas of the pocket and find space before quickly delivering the ball. Mayfield protects the ball; stages it consistently high and tight to the sternum (leading to consistent short-range accuracy); and is unnerved and courageous with pressure in his face.

While there are times when the minute details of Mayfield’s footwork are not in rhythm with the depths of routes being run, he frequently shows great timing and precision to throw in rhythm. In the quick game and on intermediate seam throws between the numbers and hash marks, the ball jumps out of his hand.

Mayfield is very accurate on a play-to-play basis. In between the numbers this year, he's completed 161 of 220 passes (73.2 percent) for 1,827 yds (sixth-best in NFL) and a 109.4 passer rating (eighth-best).

With a strong arm and the potential to be very accurate with his ball placement, Mayfield has been particularly adept at delivering on time and at completing shorter out- and intermediate out-breaking routes, as well.

Baker Mayfield passing graphic

But Mayfield has struggled in the last three games and beyond on deeper throws. He has completed only 13 of his 55 throws beyond 20 yards this season, good for a lowly 23.6 percent. This is a noticeable red flag when considering that his top receivers (Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) have thrived in deep-ball situations throughout their careers. Mayfield has the arm talent to throw deep passes, but at times, he will overextend, leading to a rising fastball that is frequently thrown above the head of even the 6-foot-5 Evans.

Mentally, Mayfield is playing with a veteran’s poise and confidence, showing excellent command of the Buccaneers’ offense. His demeanor in the pocket validates his quick mind — he has the ability to process information and make decisions at a high level. Mayfield has also shown elite anticipation on throws into holes in zone coverage on several occasions last week in Green Bay.

Mayfield’s ability to quickly process defensive weaknesses and adjust also aids his play-making ability. He’s able to see the field well, extend plays, direct traffic and make accurate throws on the move. 

Tampa Bay has cast Mayfield into more of a game management role this season, but his gunslinger play-making qualities and ability to throw with adjusted arm angles or with an awkward foot position give him a higher ceiling than most game manager–type quarterbacks. He has also proven he can move the offense late in games and win.

Mayfield has done a good job minimizing the recklessness that has plagued him in past seasons. This season, he’s turned the ball over just nine times in 14 games, and he has not had more than one interception in any single game.

Overall, the quality of Mayfield’s supporting cast and coaching has brought out the best in him; first-year offensive coordinator Dave Canales deserves credit for playing to his quarterback’s strengths. I am quite sure that my first quarterback coach and mentor, Tom Moore, (Peyton Manning’s offensive coordinator in Indianapolis) has worked behind the scenes to add to Mayfield’s maturity on and off the field, as well.

Buccaneers’ Path to Playoffs

With three games left in the regular season, the Buccaneers will face the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints at home before finishing on the road against Carolina. Tampa Bay’s game against the 7-7 Saints on New Year’s Eve will be particularly important because it could ultimately decide which NFC South team makes the playoffs.

Mayfield’s Buccaneers have been streaky this season, starting 3-1 before a 1-6 stretch that put them on the outside of the playoff picture. The 2023 NFL season has proven once again the season is fluid — and anything can happen in December.

There is a wave of momentum building in Tampa Bay behind Mayfield’s winning drive against the Atlanta Falcons two weeks ago and his elite performance last week at Lambeau Field. It is evident that this Buccaneers team believes in Mayfield based on his performance and his team’s demeanor toward him over the last three games.

Aside from Mayfield’s growth, the key to Tampa Bay’s recent success has been the exceptional play of the offensive line and an elite receiving corps led by Evans.

The Buccaneers' offensive line has allowed the 12th-fewest pressures this season and the 10th-fewest sacks, while Evans has eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the 10th straight season. Meanwhile, Godwin has made multiple game-changing catches, and TE Cade Otton has been a reliable option throughout the year.

If Tampa Bay can find a more productive running game (it has the fourth-fewest rushing yards and is last with 3.5 YPC), it will not shock me when the team makes the playoffs and puts up a fight in the wild-card round.

What is Mayfield Worth Going Forward?

In the middle of Tampa Bay’s 1-6 midseason stretch, members of the Buccaneers organization might have been considering which quarterback they would take in the top 10 of the 2024 draft.

Now at 7-7 and with a quarterback who is seemingly improving week after week, the team's front office might be putting together a plan of what to offer Mayfield to retain him as the starter going forward.

This offseason, Mayfield had trouble finding a suitable home and signed a one-year prove-it deal that pays him less than Mike White received as the Miami Dolphins’ backup.

Even at his best, Mayfield is arguably not among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks. Because of this, it is unclear if he will attract a significant pay day this offseason. But we will see a more comprehensive picture as the remainder of the season unfolds.

>> READ: Week 16 Quarterback Rankings

Regardless of how the offseason negotiations unfold and how much money the market dictates the 28-year-old is worth, I am hopeful he will be back in Tampa Bay going forward. He’s been an excellent fit for the organization and in the locker room, and he has brought the Buccaneers unexpected stability in the wake of Tom Brady’s retirement.

I truly believe there is nothing like the journeys we see of NFL quarterbacks. No two are alike, and Mayfield’s has been more than interesting. It’s not just that his production on the field has improved, it is the humility, authenticity and hope he is bringing to Tampa Bay.